Arthur Brooks invited relationship experts from the Gottman Institute onto his podcast to discuss how their research on saving troubled marriages might save our nation’s troubled union. Here’s what they had to say:
Our research shows that contempt kills relationships. It’s the worst of the Four Horsemen. If we want to have happier relationships, and be happier people, we have to get out of the habit of expressing contempt for each other.
Anger is not the same as contempt. Contempt is belittling and disrespectful. It makes us less empathetic toward our fellow humans. Anger engages us. If you do it in a respectful way, anger can be constructive because it leads to mutual understanding.
While we don’t do work on political discourse, maybe we can apply the Gottman Method to solve the contempt problem in our country.
We can start political reconciliation by talking about our shared why instead of our divided what. We call this the “dreams within conflict” approach. It gets at the meaning of each person’s position.
When people are arguing with each other about politics and policy, they’re usually talking about the what of politics. They need to dig into the why of the values behind the political positions they hold. In doing so, they’ll find they agree on more than they thought.
From political debates on television to comment threads on social media, we see people treating each other with contempt all the time. The dialogue has become “us” vs “them.” And that deludes us into thinking we’re better than other people. It’s dangerous.
The First Amendment guarantees that people have the right to be heard, even if their points of view are offensive to us. If we want to bring the country together, we need dialogue. Dialogue is what enriches us. It’s what has always made America great.
We tend to listen to the views that support our own beliefs, but we don’t grow that way. We have to make the leap to assume that Fox News and MSNBC, which are really opposite points of view, have something to say. We’re going to learn the most from people who disagree with us.
We should read widely and talk to people who are different from us, and make the assumption that they mean well. They’re just as American as we are.
These experts recommend four specific rules we should use in our discourse to heal our divided nation. Read those four rules here.